The Las Vegas Raiders are set to host the Baltimore Ravens for the season opener on Monday Night Football. To preview the matchup, Kyle Barber of Baltimore Beatdown was kind enough to answer five questions I have going into the game.
1) We’ll start with a nice, easy softball question, how do you stop Lamar Jackson? Is there you’ve noticed that other defenses have done in the past that have given him trouble?
Stopping Lamar Jackson takes an entire defensive effort executing their assignment for 60 minutes. We’ve seen it done in the past with the Los Angeles Chargers using dime packages and faster players to cover the edges to contain Jackson but it’s far easier said than done. The same goes for the Buffalo Bills in the postseason, where they created loads of pressure against an offensive line that appeared to forget what time the game started.
Just like every other quarterback, stopping Jackson involves creating pressure in the pocket, covering his targets as a secondary and containing the running lanes when the pocket collapses and he’s looking to escape. All that makes sense. But when you have a quarterback with a rifle of an arm and 4.2 speed, doing so isn’t as easy.
2) Between J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards tearing ACL’s and Rashod Bateman officially going on injured reserve, the Ravens’ offensive weapons have taken a big hit in recent weeks. Besides the obvious in tight end Mark Andrews, who are the other offensive skill players for Baltimore that Raider fans should be worried about? And can you share a quick snapshot of what each of them brings to the table?
This was, and is, a brutal training camp and preseason for the Ravens. They lost all three of their running backs within a span of 12 days to season-ending injuries. They’ve now signed running backs Le’Veon Bell, Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murray and Trenton Cannon to deal with the litany of injuries.
I think wide receiver Sammy Watkins is the player to fear for the Raiders in Week 1. Watkins has a history of blowing up in Week 1 and his chemistry with Jackson during the preseason was impressive. He dealt with an injury during training camp but looks to enter Week 1 at 100%.
Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is Jackson’s favorite wide receiver target. Last season, when he wasn’t targeting Andrews, he was searching for Brown. Look for him to make a difference. His speed is truly next level.
Ty’Son Williams, the undrafted running back who made the roster not because of injury, but because he really looked good in the preseason, enters Week 1 as the starter. He has great speed and agility, with knowledge of the teams’ system. He obviously can’t be a one-to-one replacement of Dobbins or Edwards, but watch him make a few decent runs.
3) The Raiders have beefed up their defensive line this offseason, can you give a one-on-one matchup in the trenches that you think favors Baltimore and then another that might tilt in Las Vegas’ favor?
Think it comes down to some generic matchups. Whoever is facing left tackle Ronnie Stanley is going to have a boring day. Stanley, even returning from a season-ending ankle injury back in November 2020, is still among the best pass blockers in the NFL. If that’s where Ngakoue lines up, don’t expect much in terms of production. Stanley, combined with Jackson’s speed, makes it virtually impossible to take Jackson down.
The left guard position for the Ravens is still a question mark for the Ravens. I think somebody like Johnathan Hankins or whoever plays at the 3-tech spot has an advantage, or maybe whoever plays defensive end against the right tackle has a slight advantage as right tackle Alejandro Villanueva hasn’t looked the best in camp this year.
4) The Ravens lost a couple of edge rushers this offseason in Yannick Ngakoue and Matthew Judon. Which pass rushers from Baltimore should the Raiders be concerned about? Can you maybe name at least one on the edge and then another interior rusher that could cause problems?
On the edge, the biggest name for a pass rusher is somebody Raiders fans are already familiar with: Justin Houston. The veteran signed with the Ravens for less money than he was reportedly offered with the Steelers because he wanted to play for the Ravens. He said he fell in love with their system. He’s only a handful of sacks away from 100 career sacks and he clearly wants it. Watch for him to cause some pressure.
Calais Campbell is the man to fear regarding interior pressure. A lot of talk has been about whether Campbell’s age has caught up to him or if it was about his health and COVID keeping him from making an impact. I think it was the latter, as I try to not have homerism affect my perspective. He’s just so big and wise when it comes to the game, it’s hard to not see him making an impact.
5) The Ravens’ secondary might be the best in the NFL, so they have plenty of strengths. But what is their biggest weakness, in your opinion? Is there something other teams have done in the past that has been successful against Baltimore’s defensive backs?
The loss of cornerback Marcus Peters is significant, though as you said, it’s still among the best in the NFL. I think their greatest weakness lies in their safety tandem. Both Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott are talented safeties but neither is this all-seeing center field coverage fiend. They both are this traditional good-to-great in most areas without a proficiency or deficiency in any certain area. They’re just “solid” all-around guys.
That said, the Raiders can attempt to take advantage with tight end Darren Waller attacking the midfield where the Ravens struggle to cover with their inside linebackers, which appears to be the Raiders' greatest strength with Waller.